Salam Dear Sister,
Thank you for contacting us with your question.
You are correct. Child marriage is indeed a controversial issue in the current era, because if not done with the right intentions and according to the prescribed manner, it can open the door to exploitation and injustice towards innocent children, especially when their parents use their childhood marriages only as leverage for personal financial gain and/or achieving any other selfish motives.
Nevertheless, Islam allows child marriage i.e. parents of Muslim children are allowed by Allah to convene their minor child’s wedding contract (kitab al nikah) even when the latter hasn’t attained puberty, with cohabitation and consummation delayed till after both children attain or pass puberty, i.e. become adults. Technically, a person becomes an adult when attaining sexual maturity or puberty.
This wedding contract (nikah) can be carried out by the parents even without the said child’s knowledge or consent. For the official fatwa regarding this, with evidence, please click here.
However, in order to truly understand why child marriages have been allowed by Islam i.e. it is allowed in Islam for the legal guardian(s) of a child to convene the nikah of this child, even before he or she has reached the age of puberty, one must refer a bit to the centuries of history of mankind, and analyze the historic cultural and social norms that were prevalent among human beings before the current waves of globalization, instant communication, digitization, industrialization and over-sexualization permanently changed the social mores of most of human civilization.
Until just a century or so ago, for a boy or girl to willingly marry during their mere teenage years was not considered unusual, whether in Muslim or in non-Muslim cultures. Even many boys would get married before the age of twenty, and many a time, their marriages were convened exclusively under their parents’ patronage.
In general, whether Muslim or not, most historic cultures and civilizations used to frown upon and discourage aging spinsters in their midst. The institution of family was given a lot of importance.
Therefore, marrying off children was considered a moral and social parental duty, just as nowadays, the “helicopter” parenting style that has become prevalent around the world, makes parents believe that it is their obligatory duty to give their child a good education, because of which they send their child off to preschools, day cares and play-groups, and enroll them in various other extracurricular activities round-the-clock, from a very early age, even without the small child’s consultation, permission or consent.
Allowing child marriages to be carried out by Muslim parents serves as a security measure and ‘investment’ for the child’s prosperous future, and was a means of ensuring that a son or daughter got tied to a good life partner and became related to a respectable, established, honorable, and virtuous Muslim family through marriage, with whom they’d spend their life in peace and happiness after they became older.
Once again, I’m going to present the analogy of a good education. Nowadays, it is considered socially acceptable for a child as young as two years old to have their whole day planned out with play dates, activities, excursions, and outings, in the company of other children and caregivers (nannies) — all of which are chosen for them exclusively by their parents.
From what a 2-year-old child wears, eats, reads, and watches, to whom he interacts with, – everything is decided by his or her parents. Nobody questions these decisions made by the parents for their child.
Similarly, it was considered acceptable for the early Muslim generations to decide who their child would marry, during the childhood phase as well. It was a time when all Muslim parents valued choosing a righteous spouse for their child, as a necessity and an obligation for ensuring the good future life of their child (as nikah completes half of a person’s Deen), the way the current crop of young new parents all over the world value a good education for their little child, and make substantial efforts to ensure that he or she gets their feet firmly inside the doors of prestigious educational institutions very early on in life.
Attitudes towards marriage in the current global socioeconomic climate, on the other hand, have drastically changed. Marriage is now considered an optional ‘choice’ that an adult individual makes on their own, of their own free will, and not necessarily by consulting their parents, well past the age of maturity/adulthood (i.e. puberty).
This is why many people nowadays, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, tend to get scandalized at the age at which Aishah bint Abi Bakr was married, even though, thanks to the rampant over-sexualized environmental and social stimuli that most children are exposed to during early childhood all over the world, many 9-year-old girls nowadays are already idolizing and crushing on young male celebrities, going to the beach or pool clad in their first bikini, or secretly trying on their mother’s makeup and high heels.
It is also not uncommon for young boys to start experiencing wet dreams, feeling sexually attracted to women’s bodies, and getting their first glimpse of graphic porn, from as early as age 10.
Is it not ironic and sad that nowadays, we live in a world that frowns upon righteous, Allah-fearing parents arranging the marriage of their minor child to a suitable, pious suitor before the child hits puberty, yet we allow our prepubescent children to watch permissive movies (which almost always have undercurrents of romance/dating/sexuality), wear immodest clothing, and/or go out on their first date during middle school?
We dwell in a world that glamorizes and beautifies for little children what Allah has made unlawful (haram) for them i.e. romance and sex outside marriage, and demonizes what He has made lawful (halal) i.e. dating, love and sex within the permissible relationship of marriage?
Islam is a religion closest to man’s natural predisposition, and it doesn’t bar or stop righteous, Allah-fearing Muslim parents from betrothing an underage child to a righteous spouse in order to ensure their bright future as a practicing Muslim.
Sister, in the end, I would like to urge you to read up on the history of marriages in cultures all over the world, and to also read up on incidents in the seerah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in order to gain knowledge that will help open up your mind and expand your outlook about not just Islam, but also intrinsic human nature.
I do agree with you, however, that the Islamic permissibility of convening a minor child’s marriage does open up the door for exploitation and physical abuse of the child in some cases, where the parents/guardians are ignorant (i.e. they lack knowledge of Islam) and they do not fear Allah regarding the decisions they make about their children.
However, for that, we cannot cast the blame upon Islam or the laws of the religion. The blame is on the vile, evil-intentioned Muslims who are abusing the laws of Islamic marriage in order to gain worldly benefits. Because where ever there is evil, there are evil consequences, even in societies that practice commendable measures for law enforcement and social justice.
As a final note, even though Islam allows marriage at an early age, parents must abide by the laws of the country they are living in. Not doing so is against Islamic principles because of the negative consequences this might have on both parents and children; in addition, to smearing the image of Islam and Muslims.
I hope this is of help to you and Allah knows best.
Salam and please keep in touch.